ITHA: More money for awards and stakes, and progress for future

Posted: June 4, 2018

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association June 2 reported on the progress made for horse racing during the recent state legislative session, and also looked at some promising developments that could prove positive in the future. The letter to its membership appears below.

The ITHA is pleased to report that the state budget approved by Illinois lawmakers, for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1, allocates $1,609,500 million to support Thoroughbred owner awards and Illinois stakes.

Clearly, this is a fraction of the boost that Illinois horse racing truly needs to survive—let alone thrive. But as we inch closer to passage of legislation that will permit gaming at tracks for the purpose of substantially increasing purses, we appreciate the vote of support.

The spending from the state’s Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders Fund will be used primarily to increase purses to Illinois-conceived and -foaled or Illinois-foaled stakes; and to pay owner awards to Illinois-conceived and -foaled and Illinois-foaled horses who finish first, second or third in “open” races of $10,000 claiming and higher.

The ITHA, Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association and Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association worked collaboratively throughout the legislative session, engaging with all four legislative caucuses and the office of Gov. Bruce Rauner, in pursuit of these funds. The ITHA is grateful for continued interest and support from state legislators of both parties and chambers of the General Assembly.

The state’s approved budget plan also appropriates $1,187,600 million from the Illinois Standardbred Breeders Fund for Standardbred awards and races.

Lawmakers did not advance the gaming expansion bill during the spring session. Together with abolishing recapture—the woeful practice of tracks sweeping dollars from the horsemen’s purse account to subsidize their own operations—winning passage of that gaming measure remains our chief legislative priority.

There have been two developments, however, that bode well:

The latest incarnation of the gaming bill would authorize racetracks to offer table games, in addition to the electronic gaming machines contemplated by previously agreed gaming bills, for the purpose of generating additional revenue to boost purses. Taken together, this will significantly increase purses in Illinois and return them to a competitive position relative to other racing states.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to invalidate a federal law precluding states from operating sports betting has focused lawmakers’ attention on an effort to authorize, regulate and tax sports betting in Illinois. We are actively engaged in lobbying for a version of such legislation that will firmly protect the investment of horsemen, who, after all, support thousands of jobs at the tracks and throughout Illinois agribusiness. Moreover, with lawmakers not inclined to consider sports betting independent of broader gaming considerations, the prospect of adding sports betting to the mix of Illinois gaming options could help motivate agreement on the terms of a comprehensive gaming package.

Lawmakers are scheduled to next convene at the Capitol on Nov. 13 for their fall veto session. We will continue our legislative advocacy on behalf of horsemen in the months to come. In the meantime, we look forward to a vibrant summer meet at Arlington Park. We wish all the owner and trainer members of the ITHA the best of racing luck.

(Hawthorne Race Course photo courtesy ITHA)